Monday, August 8, 2011 Updated: August 9, 10:39 AM ET
Sanchez, wideouts rushing to catch up
By Rich Cimini ESPNNewYork.com
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Mark Sanchez and his revamped receiving corps practiced together Monday afternoon for the first time. Now they have five weeks to accomplish what often takes several months, and sometimes years -- develop chemistry.
Ready. Set. Hurry.
"The talent here is unbelievable," Sanchez said after the New York Jets' morning walk-through. "Now it's time to realize our potential and talent, and get this going, full-speed, as soon as possible."
Because of the late signings of Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason, the Jets' passing game is a rush job. Burress arrived eight days ago, but he couldn't practice until Monday because he rolled an ankle in an informal workout last week with teammate Santonio Holmes. Mason, who didn't sign until Sunday, suited up for the first time.
"It felt good to be pushed around a little bit and catch a few balls," Mason said after practice, admitting that he felt fatigued about midway through the three-hour session.
While many teams stressed continuity in the post-lockout world, the Jets decided to make major changes at the position that needs time and repetition to develop timing with the quarterback. They parted ways with three of their top four wideouts: Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery and Brad Smith. The only holdover is Holmes.
Sanchez, entering his third season, has played more games (31) in a Jets uniform than all of his receivers combined. Despite the upheaval, and advanced age of Burress (who will be 34 at the end of the week) and Mason (37), the organization believes it has upgraded the receiving corps.
"No doubt we can be better," Sanchez said, adding that he must get better.
On paper, it's an impressive group. Holmes, Burress and Mason have combined for 1,716 receptions, more than 24,000 yards and 147 touchdowns.
Now the trick is to define roles and develop a rapport with Sanchez, who has known nothing but wide receiver instability since he came into the league.
Plaxico Burress has teamed with ex-Raven Derrick Mason to help form yet another new-look receiving corps for third-year QB Mark Sanchez.
In 2009, Sanchez's starters were Cotchery and Chansi Stuckey, with Edwards arriving in early October via trade. In 2010, Sanchez began with Cotchery and Edwards, with Holmes joining the group after a four-game drug suspension.
Constant change can stunt a quarterback's growth, but Sanchez is confident his foundation is in place, that he'll eventually have the Manning-Wayne, Brady-Welker mojo with some of his receivers.
"Tone [Holmes] is going to be my guy for five years, and [tight end] Dustin Keller is going to be my guy for the long haul," he said, also mentioning rookie Jeremy Kerley. "These guys are going to be my guys. Those other veteran players are here for the short term to help us win immediately."
That Mason and Burress are so experienced will help the learning process. They've seen just about everything in the league; now it's just a matter of getting comfortable with the Jets' terminology and concepts.
Sanchez said he constantly quizzes Burress, even interrupting him in the middle of jokes, to test his recall on various audibles.
"I'm trying to throw him off, almost overloading him and he gets everything right every time," Sanchez said.
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Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said Mason and Holmes have the ability to line up in the slot, Cotchery's old position. A year ago, Holmes started out in the "X" position (split end), but he got work in the slot as he grew more familiar with the offense. Mason played mostly outside last season with the Baltimore Ravens, but he, too, has experience in the slot.
The Jets will miss Cotchery because he had been in Schottenheimer's system since 2006. Schottenheimer called him "one of my favorite guys I've ever coached." Now, the longest-tenured skill-position player in this system is Keller -- a mere three years.
It's no wonder the offense looked ragged over the first week of training camp. With Burress nursing a minor ankle injury, and with the recently signed Holmes forced to sit a few days while the new CBA was ratified, Sanchez was throwing to the likes of Kerley and Logan Payne, it was er, ugly.
"We're playing against what seems like the '85 Bears," Sanchez said.
The Jets' defense is very good, but not that good. Even the brash Rex Ryan will acknowledge that. But the offensive landscape changes with Burress and Mason joining Holmes.
"I know what we have [at receiver]," Ryan said, "but I'd like to see them out there at 100 percent."